Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has backed off his unconditional support of a bill requiring pregnant women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure before having an abortion after the legislation was fiercely opposed by Democrats and was the target of several television spoofs.
The contentious bill would require pregnant women seeking an abortion to, without her consent, receive an ultrasound to determine the gestation age of the fetus, listen to the heartbeat, and be given the opportunity to see the images. Women who refuse to look at the ultrasound would have to sign a statement which, along with the print of the image, would become a part of her medical file.
In addition, the bill, which sailed through the state Senate but has been postponed in the House, would require women who live within 100 miles of their abortion provider to wait at least 24 hours after receiving the ultrasound before going through with the procedure, aside from medical emergencies. Women living outside of that radius would have to wait two hours.
While supporters of the measure say it provides crucial medical information to women seeking abortions, opponents say it forces women to undergo unnecessary medical testing and is an invasion of their privacy. Moreover, because most abortions are performed in the first trimester when the fetus is too small to be viewed through an abdominal ultrasound, women in the early stages of pregnancies would be forced to endure a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which some lawmakers have said is tantamount to rape.
Interprets Probing As Legal Rape
In a General Assembly debate on Tuesday, Del. Lionel Spruill, D, told the House of Delegates the senate bill would force what I consider a legal rape with an ultrasound probe, the Virginian-Pilot reports.
Other Democratic lawmakers blasted the ultrasound measure. Del. Charniele Herring, D, told House members that enacting a mandatory vaginal probe is an invasion of womens' constitutional rights, adding that it is time to end the shame that has been brought to this state by this bill.
On Tuesday the House delayed a vote on the legislation for the second day in a row. The Virginian-Pilot reports that two legislators, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said lawmakers are discussing softening the legislation by making the ultrasound optional rather than mandatory.
Gov. McDonnell, who gained national attention after blasting President Barack Obama's economic policies at a September fundraiser for New Hampshire Republicans, indicated he would sign the ultrasound measure if it made it to his desk. However, aides to the pro-life governor told The Washington post this week that McDonnell can no longer make that commitment, although he has not specifically said he would veto the bill.
Virginia Republicans, who are currently in control of the General Assembly, have other multiple abortion-related bill pending this legislative session. One measure would end state subsidies for low-income women to abort fetuses diagnosed with serious birth defects, in addition to a personhood bill that seeks to give legal rights to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception.
Earlier this year, McDonnell signed legislation that imposed tightened rules on abortion clinics that some said could shut down as many as 22 of the state's facilities.
The legislation has been opposed by several groups over the past week. About 1,200 men and women reportedly held a silent protest in front of the State Capitol on Monday, where media outlets report protesters wore shirts decorated with messages such as Virginia is for lovers, not probes. Opponents of the measure are expected to turn over a petition with 25,000 signatures from Virginians who oppose the requirement, according to the Post, which reports a second rally has been planned for Thursday.
Liberal leaning news organizations have also taken issue with the measure. The Post reports a film crew for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart arrived in Richmond to film on Tuesday, while over the weekend Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update lambasted charge at both the ultrasound bill and the personhood legislation.